Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

« Panda loose in Big Apple | Main | Lebanese jazz musician blogs the bombing »

July 18, 2006

Interview with George Lakoff on the

Austin Evers of the Baltimore Group blog interviews George Lakoff on freedom, framing, blogs, Barack Obama, the differences between Democrats and Republicans, and much more. Click through to read the full-text, or download the podcast.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c61e653ef00d8342fc2b553ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Interview with George Lakoff on the :

» What Lakoff and Obama Do Not Understand from TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime
(TalkLeft Guest Commentary by Big Tent Democrat) In an interview with Baltimore Group Blog, highlighted by majekthise, George Lakoff says: AE: Let's talk about the underlying debate that is happening. There is always debate in Congress between Democrat... [Read More]

Comments

It's "BaraCk" Obama. Evers or his transcriber misspelled it.

Yawn. Lakoff is a legend in his own mind. Yeah, bring on thsoe "freedom judges". [roll eyes]

I like the idea of George Lakoff a whole lot better than George Lakoff himself. He has some useful advice in a very general sense, but when he tries his hand at actually framing things he's hopelessly inept.

That said, I agree with him that Obama is the best guy around (whose last name isn't Clinton and whose first name isn't Bill) at the framing game. Even that speech to evangelicals, which a lot of people wrongly saw as pandering to the Dominionists, was pretty shrewdly framed (IMO).

I found that speech downright offensive and it knocked my opinion of Obama down several notches.

I like the idea of George Lakoff a whole lot better than George Lakoff himself. He has some useful advice in a very general sense, but when he tries his hand at actually framing things he's hopelessly inept - Tom Hilton

I agree -- George Lakoff's no political strategist. Indeed, I think that Obama's speech for out of tune politically precisely because Obama fell into some of the framing traps into which Lakoff has (correctly, IMHO) identifies other Dems as having fallen.

That being said, liking the "idea of George Lakoff" so to speak indicates he is something our party sorely needs: someone good at what I call "meta-politics". E.g. part of the problem with Howard Dean is that he is lousy at talking about political strategy even if the strategies he comes up with are good. OTOH, Lakoff is good at talking about a certain kind of progressive friendly overall strategy.

And this is important because a lot of what voters hear about politics they learn from coverage driven by the punditocracy, who are a bunch of kewl kids who love to pretend to be smart, e.g. about politics. And the quickest way to be smart about a subject is to, shall we say, go "meta" -- so the punditocracy loves to talk about inside baseball, how talking points are framed etc. One of the problems we Dems have is that we don't give the punditocracy anything to talk about regarding us -- so when they talk about us, it's always on the terms Republicans give them. If we have some good meta-politicians of our own to get on the talking-heads show circuit (and displace the mealy-mouthed folk that currently represent us on these shows and make us liberals look effete by their very rejection of liberalism and support of wishy-washiness), it may very well change discourse in a direction favorable to us.

Lakoff may be a legend in his own mind, but that might be just the kind of legend we need to chew the fat with the punditocracy and get our, er, framing accross.

Talk is cheap. The Dems keep losing, deservedly, because at the behest of their corporate paymasters, they have demonstrated little interest in DOING anything that helps most people. Case in point: the disgusting number of Democratic votes for the awful bankruptcy bill. You can "frame" yourself from here to Kalamazoo as the party that's for the interests of the common man, but if you don't walk the walk people have a way of catching on. Another problem, the one that's virtually the raison d'etre of the Kos / Atrios "netroots" crowd(and rightly so) is that the party is far too beholden to interest groups that are too stupid to see the self-defeating futility of endorsing "moderate" Republicans who are willing to give lip service- but no more- to their particular issues. A third problem is the massive decline of organized labor (not altogethter unconnected with the first problem.) These are real, serious problems that the likes of Lakoff have not clue one about.

they have demonstrated little interest in DOING anything that helps most people. - Steve LeBonne

That is an important point. If Dems. actually sounded like they would do things that would help most people, they would vote for Dems -- although framing is an important aspect of sounding like you'll do something even if you are sincere about doing it (and currently Dems. have no power to do much of anything, so talking about what we'll do is all we've got -- and we need to learn to speak correctly).

Part of the reason people vote for Republicans is that they feel "there's not a lick of difference between the parties" in terms of what the parties will do for them, so they vote Republican, even if they are themselves social liberals 'cause the Republicans at least are willing to stand against (to use an Atrios description of how some people think) "icky people doing icky things" whereas all the Democrats stand for is the right, even though the voter in question agrees with that right, of "icky people to do icky things".

But framing issues correctly is an important step to convincing people to vote for us so we can actually do something -- though I do agree with your point about talk being cheap. If we cannot get the cheap stuff right, though, how will people count on us to do something more expensive (which gets back to my point about meta-politics ... if people don't see us as being strong, effective, etc. politically, how will they see us that way in governance? so we need to not just use politics to win voters but use meta-politics to win people over to our political strategy ...)?

"Yeah, bring on thsoe 'freedom judges'."

I bet he'd like to take that back if he could. It's the "yeearghhh" of the literary world.

Well, this interview provides ample support for my claim that American liberals pay too much attention to Lakoff.

Thanks for the link, Lindsay. I fixed that horrible typo, by the way. Thank you for pointing it out. In the process of transcribing 63 minutes of audio I must have lost my mind.

I just want to point out that at the end of the interview Lakoff talks about how his job is to educate those of us with ideas about how to frame them successfully. His book is full of policies that he loves but that's not what it's about. He stresses that we need to be deliberate in our language and aware of the traps that are set for us. It's common sense, but following it is not common, even among bloggers.

Thanks again for the plug.

Lakoff can be good on specific examples, but frankly I find the strict father/nurturant parent stuff to be silly psychobabble. I also think that his recommendation that Democrats fight framing with framing is likely to degrade public conversation further into an unproductive clashing of slogans, if the recent fruits of the strategy such as "Prosperity. Opportunity. Community" are anything to go by. YMMV.

I think most people don't know much about Lakoff. Starting in the sixties Lakoff was an early part of the general shift in linguistics that Chomsky begat.

As a theorist of language it's amazing that he was able to move over to crass political thinking and offer anything to that realm. To accuse Lakoff of being full of himself is ignorance. Politics is mainly a seat of the pants ad hoc game. Lakoff has to some degree introduced new cognitive science ideas into the mixing bowl of politics.

Further Lakoff as a 'liberal' has been pretty stalwart in trying to build up the strength of the left. It's typical of this country that so-called character analysis is applied to ideas. Lakoff's character is the problem not his ideas. Lack of respect for intellectuals is a gross problem of the 'character' of U.S. political thinking.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

I'm perfectly well aware of who Lakoff is apart from politics. I find some of his ideas provocative but his metaphor-mania on the whole unconvincing even in its purely scholarly context. None of which, however evaluated, automatically entitles him to be taken seriously as a political analyst, nd the fatuity of so many of his comments in that realm strongly suggest that he should not be.

Politics is mainly a seat of the pants ad hoc game. Lakoff has to some degree introduced new cognitive science ideas into the mixing bowl of politics.

The only idea he's introduced that is neither trivially true nor false is the word "frame," which is different from "rhetoric" only in that it has a less negative connotation.

One thing I've noticed over the years is how little in the way of accurate criticism people have to offer against Lakoff's ideas. "I find some of his ideas provocative but his metaphor-mania on the whole unconvincing even in its purely scholarly context." is fairly typical in this regard. This isn't a statement about Lakoff. It's a statement about Steve LaBonne. It gives me absolutely no potentially useful information.

When virtually all one sees in the way of criticism is this sort of emotivism, one does have to wonder about the critics.

Of course, the alternative is what one finds at Talk Left--a post so full of misreadings and faulty inferences that one quickly recalls the benefits of emotivism.

I really run the danger of sounding like a Lakoff groupie for the simple reason that I've found so few criticisms over the years that even display an accurate understanding of what Lakoff is saying.

I wish it weren't so, actually. A valid, coherent challenge serves to elucidate things that may well not be seen otherwise. But valid, coherent challenges of Lakoff's ideas are rarer than hen's teeth.

As for the canard about him not having any actually useful political insights or ideas, see my comment about it at MyDD.

I really run the danger of sounding like a Lakoff groupie for the simple reason that I've found so few criticisms over the years that even display an accurate understanding of what Lakoff is saying.

http://mixingmemory.blogspot.com/2004/09/lakoff-framing.html
http://semanticcompositions.typepad.com/index/2004/09/maybe_try_think.html
http://brentrasmussen.com/log/node/800

Yes, you're a Lakoff groupie. People with impressive-sounding but fuzzy ideas tend to inspire that sort of devotion in a certain kind of person.

There's been plenty of pointed criticism. For example, Lakoff and Nunez basically got their heads handed to them, for not knowing what they're talking about, by quite a few mathematician-reviewers of their book on how the "embodied mind" supoosdely does math.

Under the fancy verbiage, deep down he's just another self-refuting relativist. That's the most self-defeating kind of thinking that progressives could possibly adopt.

Steve LaBonne writes;
For example, Lakoff and Nunez basically got their heads handed to them, for not knowing what they're talking about, by quite a few mathematician-reviewers of their book on how the "embodied mind" supoosdely does math.

Doyle;
The basic thesis of Lakoff's about math is that the brain uses metaphor to create math. Then cites how to understand that at various levels of contemporary math. In scientific debate no one hands someone else their head. Decisively disproving a theory is about all that can happen in such debates.

I think a cognitive neuroscience view of math challenges the platonism of a lot of mathematicians. I.e. math is an ideal not a real world work process.

I think it unarguable in a scientific sense that math is not cognition. To find evidence in math that cognitive structures appear in math seems so basic as to defy reason why someone would challenge that. This is no place to debate such things, but I suppose a spirited debate some time some place on these grounds would be rewarding.

Steve LaBonne writes;
I'm perfectly well aware of who Lakoff is apart from politics. I find some of his ideas provocative but his metaphor-mania

Doyle;
I'm glad you like to use 'mania' as a metaphor. It shows how well you grasp the work process in science. Maniac scientist blather on in the universities about whatever their mania is. And that's what's 'wrong' with Lakoff. His mania.

That is not criticism this is personality characterization. Faulty in my view because it does not engage the material Lakoff has published.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

Lakoff and Nunez are no more "neuroscientists" than George Bush is an embryologist. (Nunez trained with Lakoff himself, a linguist, and with Terry Winograd, a computational AI type.) So whatever they were applying to math, it was not cognitive neuroscience, which they are no more qualified to do than they are to do math.

My my Steve, Linguistics is not part of cogsci? Here is Lakoff's current courses being taught at U.C. Berkeley:
Linguistics 105/Cogsci 101-201 The Mind and Language

Linguistics 107/Cogsci 107 The Mind and Mathematics

In this particular case it is not enough to make a blanket statement that whatever Lakoff is doing is 'not cognitive neuroscience'. There is a linkage in disciplines between cognitive sciences and say for example AI, and computer science and so on and so forth. They are not exactly discrete fields of inquiry.

For example in a tangental way, Steven Pinker at MIT is a psychologist, but is deeply involved in evolutionary theory, as well as language (linguistic) theory.

In any case dismissive comments about someone like Lakoff at his given academic level as if you definitely know he is a charlatan is more telling of your insight than Lakoff.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

It's not part of NEUROscience certainly not as Lakoff practices it. Was reading comprehension part of your curriculum? I am amused by slurs on my "insight" from people who can't read.

Steve LaBonne writes;
It's not part of NEUROscience certainly not as Lakoff practices it.

Doyle;
Berkeley doesn't treat Neuroscience as distinct from Cognitve Science. Why would they be? What's distinct about the two? In other words, cognition in human beings is a broad subject embracing several mainstream approaches to what 'cognition' is. In any case the subject is one unified thing; Human Consciousness. Neuroscience itself is mainly a science of vision. What is known about say the cerebellum in neuroscience is practically speaking 'nothing'. Since one can't know from 'neuroscience' for example how the networks form consciousness, one can via language, computer simulations explore the structure with already existing knowledge.

Steve LaBonne;
Was reading comprehension part of your curriculum? I am amused by slurs on my "insight" from people who can't read.

Doyle;
Please. Your position is that Lakoff has no relationship with Neuroscience period. You imply what he is saying is not based in the 'science'. That's just outlandish.

Another way for you to approach this is to question specifics in an intelligible fashion. That is in a scientific manner falsify Lakoff.

Whitehead long championed a theory of gravity against Einstein. Eventually the physical aspects of gravity proved Whitehead wrong. Same with Lakoff, demonstrate Lakoff is wrong?
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

I don't care who treats what as what. I am a biologist (molecular biology / genetics) and I know what a neuroscientist is. Lakoff wouldn't know a neuron if he tripped over it- nor would he claim otherwise. You would be a good deal more persuasive if you didn't keep digging your hole deeper when caught not knowing what you're talking about.

That is in a scientific manner falsify Lakoff.

But Lakoff himself has criticized falsifiability. When it was pointed out to him that his theories about frames were not falsifiable, he said falsifiability was merely another mental frame.

Alon Levy writes;
he said falsifiability was merely another mental frame.

Doyle;
Steve's position demands a falsifiable approach to the question about Lakoff's theory. So what else then to ask of Steve? So what if Lakoff rejects that? Steve can get himself out of the conundrums with zesto I'm sure.

Steve Labonne writes;
I am a biologist (molecular biology / genetics) and I know what a neuroscientist is.

Doyle;
What does a neuroscientist say about language? Or turning it around what does language say about neuroscience.

I'm not digging a hole for myself, I'm exposing your pronouncements. Claiming authority by position does not make your words authority.
thanks,
Doyle

The comments to this entry are closed.